DENIS Napthine has laughed off suggestions by former premier Steve Bracks that he found the role of opposition leader a burden.
The Member for South West Coast said the claims made by Mr Bracks, in his new book A Premier's State, were not accurate.
"I was absolutely passionate about being an effective leader of the party," Dr Napthine told The Standard.
"Twenty-plus years after being in politics, I still absolutely love it and I'm absolutely passionate about my electorate and country Victoria."
Dr Napthine was elected unopposed as leader of the Victorian Liberals in 1999 when Jeff Kennett resigned following his government's shock defeat at the polls.
In his book, Mr Bracks describes Dr Napthine as a member with "some political experience" and "a reasonable debater in the house".
"He'd been earmarked by the Kennett government to be treasurer if they won a third term, so they obviously had some regard for him," Mr Bracks says. "He was a decent enough person and a hard worker and had some ambition as well. But clearly he was now the leader of a demoralised Liberal Party."
"Denis Napthine was in a particularly difficult position because of the vacuum created by the departure of Jeff Kennett; the public couldn't really see anyone else filling the former leader's shoes. I don't think he made much of an impact in the nearly three years in which he led the Liberals, although he did keep the party together.
"That was an accomplishment, as the supporters of power broker Michael Kroger and those of Jeff Kennett were at each other's throats for that whole time. Unlike Robert Doyle, who seemed to relish his time in parliament and was regarded by the media as an up-and-comer, Denis Napthine seemed to find it all rather burdensome, as if leadership didn't sit well with him.
"One thing that made it hard for him was that his milieu was the seat of Portland, several hours drive from Melbourne down near the South Australian border, whereas most of the other MPs in the Liberal Party called the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne home.
"Denis Napthine also had to deal with the fact that other people coveted his job, and that they would regularly background the media about him and the Liberal Party's prospects. To his credit, he battled on," the memoir says.
Dr Napthine conceded it was difficult to lead a party from a rural electorate: "Bracks' comment that it is challenging or particularly difficult being an opposition leader in a country seat is absolutely accurate.
"One of the things I faced living in Portland and being opposition leader was that I had to get a balance between serving my country electorate, spending some time with my family and being in Melbourne to get some comment on the news of the night. "
He said his task was made even more difficult after the Portland electorate was abolished following a redistribution of state electorate boundaries in 2002. A leader of a major party had lost his seat something that was unheard of.
"My electorate was completely abolished and I had to face a new election with the large city of Warrnambool in my electorate for the first time."
He described it as challenging to lead a party, familiarise himself with a new electorate and develop a profile in opposition to ensure the Liberals were competitive against a sitting government.
Dr Napthine said he appreciated the Bracks' comment that he did manage to keep the Liberal Party together.
"What people don't understand after the 1999 election was I had more members in the Liberal Party caucus than there were in the Labor Party caucus because they had to get the support of the independents to form government.
"I had more people under my leadership across both houses than Steve Bracks did. So, with the large numbers in opposition and the disappointment of losing government, keeping a party functioning and working together in that environment was a significant thing.
"Some external issues between the Kennett and Kroger factions in the Liberal Party made that task even harder, so I was pleased we did keep the party together and focused."
He said while it was disappointing to lose the leadership, it was even more disappointing to cop such a massive defeat at the 2002 election. But Dr Napthine said he stayed in the game for the long-haul.
"I am (now) a senior minister in a Liberal government. Bracks, Doyle, (John) Brumby, (Rob) Hulls and (Peter) Batchelor have all pulled up stumps."
He told The Standard that he had not bothered to read Steve Bracks' book.
"If I found it in a $2 bin in a shop somewhere I might consider it," he laughed.
n A Premier's State, by Steve Bracks with Ellen Whinnett, is published by Melbourne University Press.